The Carolina Hurricanes returned to the ice on Monday, but it looked markedly different than it usually does.
The team skated in four separate groups with no more than six players on the ice at a time, the first time in the last week that the Canes have reconvened in person since the league mandated a quarantine following a string of positive COVID-19 tests.
"We've been in contact with the league through this whole process," President and General Manager Don Waddell said on Monday. "The whole plan was once we got out of this quarantine period where we felt it was out of the locker room that we'd be able to get back on the ice."
During the temporary shutdown, the Canes, including Head Athletic Trainer Doug Bennett and Head Medical Physician Dr. Josh Bloom, consulted regularly via Zoom with medical representatives and infectious disease consultants from the NHL and NHLPA.
"We went through the spread, where it was happening, how it was happening and how we could safely reopen our facility to get back to some normalcy in hockey," Bennett said.
RELATED: CANES NAVIGATING THROUGH TEMPORARY SHUTDOWN
The quarantine mandate was designed to curb the rapid spread of the virus amongst the team, and since Jan. 19, when the Canes' schedule was paused, the team has added only one new name to the NHL's COVID-19 Protocol list.
"The health, well-being and safety of our players, staff and our community are of upmost importance to all parties involved. That's why we had to go through this shutdown," Bennett said. "Now, as things look more optimistic, we're going to start to reopen as safely as we can."
The first step in returning to play was simply getting back on the ice in small groups for about an hour each on Monday. Team activity, including a full practice, is scheduled to resume on Tuesday.
"The hope is that tomorrow will feel pretty normal," Bennett said. "There are a few other procedures we've put in place for tomorrow, some additional testing and safety measures, but for the most part, tomorrow should feel like a more normal hockey practice pending no new positive test results."
The Canes, who were supposed to open at home against the Florida Panthers last week, were also slated to host the Tampa Bay Lightning for a two-game set beginning Tuesday. That game has been postponed, but the team aims to return to game action for the first time in 10 days on Thursday against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
"100 percent," Waddell said. "I think we'll be ready to roll."
Video: "We're going to do the best we can."
The Canes hope to have Jordan Staal back in the lineup for Thursday's game, but they will probably be without five other NHL regulars through the weekend: Jesper Fast, Warren Foegele, Jordan Martinook, Jaccob Slavin and Teuvo Teravainen.
Additions from the taxi squad, as well as recalls from the Chicago Wolves, will be likely processed in the coming days.
"They're all looking for their opportunities, so I expect to get the best out of them," Waddell said.
The NHL reshuffled the schedule to accommodate the four games postponed during this temporary shutdown. In total, six Canes games were rearranged to squeeze in four make-ups, compacting an already tight 56-game slate.
"It was a lot of work by the league, and we had lots of calls about it because obviously it affected multiple teams and multiple days," Waddell said. "Nothing's easy, but I think it worked out as well as it could."